We asked RTD Vines & Wines columnist Jack Berninger to harvest some grape information for thirsty (or simply curious) Virginians. Here, he mixes things up a bit.
First things first: This isn't a grape – it's a blended red wine. And second, the name simply rhymes with "heritage" – don't lapse into faux French by saying tahge at the end. But do sample these smooth, silky, complex and increasingly popular wines.
What's in a name? Meritage is a trademark name dating to 1988. It signifies wines in the U.S. (and small parts of the world elsewhere) that are high-quality blends from at least two of the traditional Bordeaux grapes. To use "Meritage" on a label, a winery must belong to the Meritage Alliance – and at least 53 wineries in Virginia are members.
True combinations: "Meritage" combines the words "merit" and "heritage" to reflect the quality of the wine and the blending skills of a winemaker. The so-called "noble" grapes of Bordeaux are the only ones that can be used: cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, malbec, merlot and petit verdot (and, on very rare occasions, Saint-Macaire, gros verdot and carménère).
By the numbers: At least two of the grapes must be in the blend (and if any grape outside the noble few is included, the wine cannot be called Meritage). The grapes can be in almost any percentage, though no one grape can account for 90 percent or more.
Doing their part: When used, each of the five primary noble grapes has an important role in the blend. Generally, cab sauv can provide structure, dark fruit flavors and strong tannins. Cab franc can add rich red fruit, spice and softer tannins. Merlot often smooths the blend with gentler tannins and ripe fruit flavors (but also can supply the backbone of the blend). Malbec can provide dark, rich color and earthy notes. And petit verdot can add body and rich flavors with moderate tannins.
The result: Depending on the percentages of grapes in the blend and the exact grapes used, the aromas, flavors and mouthfeel can vary greatly. The higher-quality Meritages offer rich, complex flavors of dark to bright fruits.
Of note: Though a few white Meritage blends (sauvignon blanc, sémillon and muscadelle du bordelaise) are available, the term "Meritage" commonly refers to the red blend. And in numerous instances, wineries will make Bordeaux-style blends and call them something other than a Meritage.
Accolades: In the 2018 Governor’s Cup competition in Virginia, 32 Meritage/Bordeaux-style red blends were awarded gold medals, and seven of the past nine Virginia Governor’s Cup winners have been Meritages or Bordeaux-style blends.